NEAH BAY — Makah hereditary chief Lester Hamilton Greene was remembered Saturday as a man who was strong on family and being “a cultural diplomat.”
Close to 500 family, friends and dignitaries gathered in the Neah Bay High School gym at a memorial service to say goodbye to Mr. Greene, 72, who died of a sudden heart attack on Oct. 17 in Brady while on his way to Olympia.
Mr. Greene, an Army veteran, worked as a carpenter, contractor and fisherman, but he will be remembered for his contribution to keeping alive the cultures of the Makah and other tribes.
He helped organize the annual summer tribal canoe journeys and traveled frequently to represent the Makah at tribal and cultural events.
He traveled to Europe in 1999 to teach people about Native American culture.
‘A significant presence’
Micah McCarty, Makah Tribal Council vice chairman and a close cousin, remembered Mr. Greene as someone who seemed to be everywhere.
“He was a significant presence at any cultural event. He was the Makah presence at hundreds of events in the Northwest and beyond,” he said.
“He was the face of the Makah to many people and a cultural diplomat.”
He earned the respect and admiration of the highest office.”
While Washington state Lt. Gov. Brad Owens and Gov. Gregoire’s husband, Mike Gregoire, had been invited to attend, they were instead represented by Antonio Sanchez, of Owens’ office.
Sanchez presented the family with a framed letter from Gov. Gregoire, praising Mr. Greene for his cultural contributions.
Sanchez said Mr. Greene was more than just someone he knew in an official capacity — he was a personal friend.
“He was truly one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever met,” Sanchez said.
“Lester had a way of smoothing rough waters and bringing cultures together in a common goal. He was keeping the voice of the Makah alive.”
Also attending was Luis Esteban, honorary consul of Spain, who had worked with Mr. Greene for the last five years to create a memorial to Spanish sailors who died off of Tatoosh Island in the 19th century.
“Chief Lester Greene introduced me to a world and people who have now become part of my extended family,” he said in a letter he read to the family.
“I learned true respect and honor for the native Makah people through him. . . . I learned to appreciate this lighthearted, lovable, caring, truly unselfish tower of a man.”
A large section of the gymnasium was filled with members from coastal tribes of Washington, Alaska and Canada, including the Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Quileute, Duwamish, Haida and Cowlitz.
Mr. Greene was awarded an honorary general’s star by the Washington Association of Generals commission for his outstanding community service.
The nonprofit organization works closely with the Owens’ office.
The award was presented by Cmdr. Bill Sperry to Mr. Greene’s son, Keith, who is in the Air Force, in recognition for his efforts to preserve Makah culture.
Sperry noted that there are only 87 such generals in the state.
“Lester showed animosity toward no one. He was one of the greatest persons I have ever met.”
As the eldest son, Keith Greene is expected to carry on his father’s legacy.
Others remembered Mr. Greene for his boisterous personality and great love of laughter.
Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty attended both as a government representative and personal friend.
Neah Bay is in Doherty’s West End district.
Mr. Greene’s drum
Doherty related that Mr. Greene had shared a room in a convalescent center with his own father when Mr. Greene’s diabetes was acting up.
The elder Doherty, a staunch Irishman, joked with Mr. Greene that his Makah drum was good, but not as good as an Irish drum.
Mr. Greene then pulled out his drum — which he took everywhere –and started drumming, Doherty said.
“Lester was a pretty boisterous guy. Nursing homes are usually pretty quiet places, but when he started drumming, he drew a crowd,” Doherty said.
“Here was Lester, lighting up the nursing home.”
Elaine Grinnell, Jamestown S’Klallam tribal storyteller, said Mr. Greene and his family kept all the tribes together as a community.
“He was a person who was spiritually there for all of us,” she said.
Grinnell’s son, Kurt, a Jamestown S’Klallam council member, said, “All the tribes in the area looked up to him. He was a great spiritual leader for all the tribes. The youth really looked up to him, and held him in the highest esteem.”
Mr. Greene’s survivors include his mother, Mary Greene, who at 93 is the eldest member of the Makah tribe.
Pastor James Kallappa said Mrs. Greene suffered terribly on the day her son died, and the community feared for her health. But within days she was looking better.
“I attribute that to each and every one of you,” he said, looking around the gym.
“Mary said what a blessing it was that your kindness and love extended to her and Lester’s family.”
Mr. Greene is also survived by his sisters Annabelle Stallaby and Eileen Parker, sons C. Wade and Douglas, daughter Michelle Lane, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his father, Hamilton Greene and his brother, Patrick Greene.
He was laid to rest at Neah Bay Cemetery immediately following the service.Features Editor Marcie Miller can be reached at 360-427-3550 or firstname.lastname@example.org